Ed Harcourt is one of those singer-songwriters who seems to have been around for ages. Indeed it’s been nearly 10 years since he emerged with with Maplewood EP, and yet he’s never quite reached the commercial peaks that his early reviews suggested would follow.
Debut album Here Be Monsters may have garnered a Mercury nomination, but the follow-up, From Every Sphere, withdrew from the former’s brighter moments into a depressive, almost gothic sound. Since then, he’s tried his hand at vibrant, ’70s inspired pop with 2004’s Strangers album, but by then the promise of any chart action had long since passed.
Lustre, his first album on an independent label after six years with Heavenly/EMI, finds him sounding more comfortable with his lot, a feeling perhaps linked to the small family he’s cultivated, as shown on the cover art. There’s a sense of cohesion to the album, which opens with a clutch of songs up there with the best from his debut. The title track is a lovely, slow-burning slice of general observation that is both pretentious and touching, backed by sighing vocals from his wife’s band, the Langley Sisters, and soaring strings.
Haywired opens with a Beatles-esque organ riff before expanding to take in piano, delicately strummed guitar and then, suddenly, a twinkling keyboard line that elevates it to one of the album’s highlights. Elsewhere, Church Of No Religion is a scathing attack on organised religion hidden within a pretty melody whilst the final track, Fears Of A Father, deals with the responsibility of fatherhood in a typically lovely way: “Blood of my blood / You have my heart / Oh the fears of a father don’t scare me / I’m ready to love”.
Despite its promising start, the album sags in the middle with Harcourt indulging, not for the first time, his love of Tom Waits. Heart Of A Wolf is all fragmented piano lines, creaking percussion and distorted vocals, but it’s almost a pastiche. A Secret Society starts briskly, with Harcourt sounding genuinely angry, but it goes nowhere – it just throws in a spot of bar room piano and hopes for the best.
Having lost his way trying to prove himself, Lustre sees a return to what Harcourt does best; well-crafted, expertly performed songs with melodies that refuse to budge. Sometimes it’s just that simple.